You’re not rid of me just yet! Over the course of the last three months, I wrote a number of posts about where I was and what I was doing. I didn’t always have great wi-fi, so I couldn’t do much photo uploading and didn’t want to force you all to actually have to read too much.
So, I’ll post these now. Complete with photographic evidence.
After some serious elephant time in Sen Monorom, I hopped a bus to Kratie to check out the endangered Irawaddy Fresh Water Dolphin. There are only about 70-some left anywhere in the world and most of them spend their days hiding from backpackers in the waters of the Mekong in this small Northern-ish Cambodian town.
The town itself is small and easy to navigate. Just a few small side streets that mostly lead to the Mekong. It’s quiet and small and perfect for taking a few days to collect yourself before heading to the Laos border. FORESHADOWING!
After the ten-hour bus ride to Sen Monorom, which included watching “Blue is the Warmest Color” on my computer while a Khmer man ate hard boiled eggs and enjoyed the 8-minute sex scene over my shoulder, the four hours to Kratie were a breeze.
I didn’t have a place to stay, but ended up in one the nicest (but expensive – $12 a night – this was before I realized I’m not the Queen of England) places I stayed during my entire trip – Le Tonle. Le Tonle is a training center for Khmer people to learn about the hospitality industry and it’s fantastic because they’re on top of their game. I highly recommend it – as much for the place (which is lovely) as for the employees who are completely attentive and always trying to practice their English. NOTE: As soon as I wrote that sentence I realized that occasionally the attentiveness can be irritating. But, try not to get annoyed if you stay there. When they ask you 7 times if you’ve decided if you want vegetable or shrimp spring rolls, just go with it. You’re traveling and there could be worse things than someone asking you what type of inexpensive and delicious dinner you’d like to eat.
Back to CROTCH-EHs
I showed up at Le Tonle planning to take a stroll around town, sit by the Mekong, read a book and then hit the road toward Laos. The problem is that every time I show up in a new place I find something I want to do and end up staying an extra day. Or I just get lazy and take a day off from navigating bus schedules. Kratie was another case of being too lazy to stay just one day, so I stayed two.
Within my first hour ambling around Kratie I came across Sorya Kayaking Adventures, which is also a delicious cafe where you can get homemade whole wheat bread with honey. You can also get all sorts of cookies and cakes and fancy breads, but try the whole wheat bread and honey. It’s perfect.
Sorya Kayaking Adventures is owned by outdoor enthusiast, Suzanne Hermanski. Originally from Oklahoma, Suzanne came to Cambodia after learning about the history of the country and falling in love. She spent time learning Khmer (and now speaks fluently!) and ultimately settled on starting her business in Kratie after finding no good outdoor activities for visitors. Read about her story here! And visit her on facebook here!
Suzanne is lovely! I was the only person who showed up without a partner, so I got to share a kayak with her as well. We paddled our little hearts out and I really enjoyed being able to ask her all sorts of questions about the Mekong.
I signed up for the half-day trip, which starts with a ride upstream (on a road, not the Mekong) on the back of a truck. After helping to unload the kayaks, we spent an hour or so paddling down the Mekong and then through the Flooded Forest. I was in Kratie in April, which was perfect. Being just before rainy season, the river was flowing enough to make it fun but it was still dry enough that the river wasn’t covering the amazing roots of the trees which grow in the direction of the current.
Another fun tree fact: The roots you see are actually from the Strangler Figs that have enveloped the original trees. I imagine that this feels like a hug that doesn’t stop. A forever hug. A fug.
After a nice paddle through the Flooded Forest, we continued on to where the Irawaddy tend to hang out. This is around when the trip really got really good. There were two British girls who had never kayaked before and they were having some trouble getting into the groove of paddling at the same time. They had a great laugh over their trials and tribulations until they found themselves tipping over into a whirlpool. Everything was okay for a while. And then they took on water. When their boat began to sink (as is common when small boats fill with Mekong water) their screams echoed all the way to Laos.
I don’t WANT to say it was funny. But I’m forced to. Because it was hilarious. Fear not, they didn’t die. They lived to tell the tale and were great sports about it, which made it even better. Actually, what made it even better was when we took our first paddling break and one of them revealed that she had never learned how to swim. I think that really added to the drama of the day.
Suzanne and I paddled to an island where I got out and she went off to rescue the sinkers. The rest of us had a nice time paddling around in the water for about an hour while Suzanne helped a small fishing boat rescue the girls and then rescue the kayak that sank.
Eventually we did make our way to where the Irawaddy can be seen. They’re pretty elusive, but I did manage to snap this gem:
That’s right, folks. You can probably skip Kratie now that I’ve brought the Irawaddy to life on your screen.
While I can’t guarantee you’ll share the trip with two British girls who can’t kayak, I highly recommend a trip with Suzanne at Sorya Kayaking Adventures. When I signed up I paid $25, but when I showed up in the morning I got $3 back because more people had signed up which drove the cost down. For $22 I got breakfast, 5 hours of kayaking, a snack (I LOVE SNACKS) and lots of great scenery.
The rest of my time in Kratie was spent wandering around the market and learning Khmer with nice women at fruit stalls.